9th Street Neighbors in Month-Long Dispute with Marines Over Construction Issues
by Larry Janezich
August 13, 2010
The residential neighbors on 9th Street across from the Marine Barracks are up in arms over the restoration and renovation of Building 8 – which runs the length of 9th Street.
After unhappy experiences in recent years with Marine Barracks construction projects, neighbors had pressed the Marines for several years to consult with them before beginning the long-planned Building 8 renovation work. According to the neighbors, the Marines promised to engage with them as late as last winter. In February, the firm-fixed-price contract was awarded to John C. Grimberg Co., Inc., Rockville, Maryland.
On July 7, neighbors were shocked to receive an email saying that commencement of the work on the $20,987,000 two-year project was imminent and demolition would last until mid-December. Neighbors felt blind-sided; according to some who had met with Barracks officials, neighbors had received consistent assurances they would be notified and consulted before anything happened.
Two days later, ACM Services – a contractor for the project – began demolition. Complaints from residents – about noise, dust, blockage of access to street and alley, traffic and safety concerns, working outside of permitted hours, and concern about disposal of asbestos – piled up as neighbors rallied and began an extensive back and forth with the Marines and DC Department of Transportation (DDOT).
Some of the issues were partially addressed by DDOT, but aggrieved neighbors, suffering the sting of feeling misled by the Marines on the underlying issue of consultation, continued to express their concerns.
On July 29, seven 9th Street residents sent a letter to Marine Barracks Commanding Officer, Colonel Teague A. Pastel, formally requesting that all work using 9th Street, SE, for [construction, demolition, debris, removal, and related activities] “immediately cease.” The letter listed the following points in support of the request:
- The noise, neighborhood disruption and street and alley blockages
- The “alarming” level of secrecy surrounding this project
The letter added, that if work must continue, “we respectfully suggest the debris collection and removal process be managed inside the Barracks and windows on the 9th Street side remain closed.
Pastel’s response came the same day. It was reserved, expressing empathy with the neighbors, but not acknowledging a failure to consult. “…we have complied with all federal and city regulations to ensure the project is completed safely and historically correct. “
Pastel offered an apology “… if you feel our work is ‘secretive and inconsiderate,’ because this is not my intent.” He encouraged the group to pursue its request for permits detailing the construction plans through Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC). He said, “I also share your disappointment if a contractor is not acting considerately,” but stated that he is not allowed to engage with the workers on issues like this, and again referred neighbors to NAVFAC.
Pastel claimed that ANC6B had been a part of the planning and coordination process as early as March, though what he is referring to is unclear, since the minutes of the ANC6B March and February meetings make no reference to the project.
Pastel concludes, “I am honored to remain your point of contact if you have general concerns and are not sure where to turn for information. … “I value your input and will continue to consider feasible options to reduce the impact of the renovation project t on the neighborhood.”
Neighbors, characterizing the response as “stonewalling” followed up on August 11, with an appeal to the DC Department of Transportation, copying CM Charles Allen and ANC6B Commissioner Kirstin Oldenburg. The appeal requested revocation of the permit for placing a dumpster on 9th Street until the Marines carry out the demolition and construction from inside the Barracks grounds. The letter cited among other complaints:
- Numerous safety and work place issues with the contractor
- Refusal of Marines to allow DDOE inspector access to the site regarding asbestos mitigation
- No attempt to abate the “intolerable” noise levels
The appeal noted, “The Marines have not involved any community organization or the neighbors IN ANY WAY concerning the undertaking of this construction, and have been deliberately deceptive in springing this undertaking on the neighbors.”
ANC6B Commissioner Oldenburg weighed in with a letter to DDOT, supporting the 9th Street neighbors’ request for revocation of the permit. She added, “To my surprise last month, there was no prior consultation by MBW with the neighbors about any of the construction details. Instead everyone, including myself, was just informed of decisions made days before the arrival of the dumpster. I attempted to get MBW to change the position knowing of the havoc the dumpster would cause 9th Street residents during months of demolition work. But my request was ignored.”
Matthew Marcou, Associate Director of DDOT responded to Oldenburg the same day:
“Thank you for reaching out about this. Some of the issues raised below are outside of DDOT’s authority to address/require.
In response to neighbor complaints the Public Space Inspections inspected the site and met with the contractors. In addition to addressing concerns about the placement of the roll off debris container, the working hours were reduced to 9:30 am – 3:30 pm.
We are sending an inspector to the site to ensure compliance and will provide a full report upon completion.”
One has the feeling there is more to come.